Like the crest of a pacific wave, Moana Jr – The Musical crashed over my friends and I in all its dazzling glory on the cusp of Long Leave. The decision of thrust staging in the intimate VCT arena allowed for a very involved show, enabling the actors to get up close and personal with the audience whilst telling their tale, and yet remaining utterly focused throughout. I was incredibly impressed with the professionalism of the young cast who seemed totally unfazed by the audience and never swayed in their focus by a friend or family member. The movement of blocks and staging was genius, again, facilitating swift, effective set changes and the storyline to skip along in its happy melody and maintain momentum. It was a visual smorgasbord to boot, with ingenious creative ideas, props, costume and expert lighting, that melded and meshed to present an oceanic feast for the senses. The icing on the proverbial cake was the expert level of singing and music. A prerequisite and vital component of a musical naturally, but it was astonishing; not only the quality and calibre of the vocals, but how each and every one of the cast employed their mics, range and vocal prowess with suitable panache, purpose, and powerful stage presence. Impressive stuff in anybody, let alone ones so young.
It would be churlish to underestimate the collective brilliance of this production by singling out solo performances only. The stoic and stellar presence of the ensemble in their essential roles, dancing and singing and supporting the narrative and visual effects impressed. Such sustained integrity to what could be considered perhaps that of the unsung hero, championed stellar character and commitment. Molly A., Sam G., Zoe G., Vivi G-A., Poppy H., Maddy K., Tilda K., Amy L., Ada L., Cameron R., Eden R., Eleanor T. and Dita V G-B. should be rightly proud of their work. The Chief Ancestors by way of Leah S., Tara M. and Wren H-D. purposely held the audience’s attention with their beautiful singing voices, stature and conduct, enhancing the audience’s view of their pivotal guidance in Moana’s personal journey. Chief Tui (Charlie L.) and Sina (Flora C.) worked harmoniously and effectively together as her parents in their bonded, nurturing influence on our eponymous heroine. Furthermore, Gramma Tala, played wonderfully by Florence R., made our hearts swell with her impish stubbornness and yet demonstrable, overwhelming love and staunch belief in her granddaughter. It should not go unmentioned how convincingly the makeup artists had worked their magic on antiquing Gramma Tala and assisting such credible ageing, alongside all other embellishing efforts on the cast as a whole. High praise indeed, to Emilia H. and Mrs McGhee for their collaborative artistic work there. Indeed, the comic roles of Hei Hei (Coco B.) and Pua (Amber B.) were very cleverly fashioned, effecting charming and adorable personas of Moana’s two best animal friends, whilst maintaining the integrity of the tale. The adorable duo charmed and entertained the audience throughout and they should be applauded for playing these unique roles with such efficacy, fun and gentle humour. An absolute personal gem however, was the exceptional triumvirate that manifested as Tamatoa. The sassy and street, burnt orange crustacean creation between Jack S., Zac W. and Max V-G. made us all ache with laughter. An absolutely fabulously entertaining and laugh out loud collective performance that was not only brilliantly clever, but hugely entertaining. Hats off boys; shiny indeed!
As the end of the production neared, we experienced the heady juxtaposition between the angry, volatile and brilliantly unfurling TeKa (Eleanor T.) with the serenity, poise and calmness of Tefiti (Lucy S.). Eleanor T. mesmerised in her masked dance that was both captivating, terrifying and heart-wrenching in equal measure. The perfectly cast Lucy S. then reigned angelically and supreme resultantly in her godly greenness and elevated, Edenic position. She conjured up the perfect combination of flora and fauna goodness that was the perfect antidote to the evil that had abounded in order for, as all good Disney tales know, peace to conquer all in the end.
Needless to say, the roles of Moana and Maui needed careful and expert casting and the directors excelled themselves here in the choices of Maddie B. and Theo C. respectively. Maui was the perfect blend of Disney hero swagger with a heart; cavalier enough to cause an eye roll but suitably characterful to effect broad grins and the desperate willing of their union. And as for Moana herself – Maddie B. personified all of the substance, tenacity, fierce will and determination of the film’s character, whilst putting her very own personal stamp on the role. She oozed surety; not just through her vocal power, but from her weaving the essence of the protagonist into all of her movement, posture and actions. Moana’s confidence, spirit and keen moral compass was exuded through all that she did – an accolade to not only Maddie’s acting skills, but from the gentle steer and expert instruction from the directors.
All in all, Moana Jr – The Musical was a wondrous crescendo and mellifluous, visual delight in the retelling of this moral tale. Via an amalgam of talent, the heart of Tefiti was quite rightly put back in its place – as the heart of Cranleigh School Junior Productions beat on fiercely and proudly concurrently.
Ms Natalie Davison, English Teacher